March 9 Vote An Issue Of Revenue, Red Tape

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Payson voters will go to the polls March 9 to approve or disapprove 25-year franchise agreements between the town and two utilities, Arizona Public Service Company and Energy West Inc.

Angela Creedon, an APS spokesperson in Flagstaff who negotiated the proposed agreement with the town, said the franchise simplifies the process of construction, maintenance and repairs by the utility companies by allowing them to operate without permits on the town's roads.

Town Attorney Sam Streichman said, "This gives them general permission to operate on the town's rights-of-way, which includes roads. If they had a breakage or outage, they could go out and repair it without having to wait to get a permit."

Creedon said there is no reason for anyone to vote against the franchise agreement.

"The only reason I can see for voting against this is that a person may be confused by the intent of the agreement," she said.

Creedon said having the franchise with the town allows the electric company to operate more efficiently -- that having to get permits each time work needs to be done would be more time-consuming and costly for both the utility companies and the town.

"It doesn't make good business sense to operate otherwise," she said. "But, regardless of the outcome of the election, the company will continue to serve the area," she said.

APS and Energy West -- formerly Broken Bow Gas -- have operated under a 25-year-agreement since the town first incorporated. In the past, they each paid a percentage of their sales to the town as part of their franchise agreement. APS will now pay a flat yearly franchise fee of $170,000 that will be adjusted annually for inflation. APS also pays local property and sales taxes.

Energy West will pay the town based on the same formula as in the past -- 2 percent of its in-town sales, plus various taxes. The in-town sales assessment amounted to about $60,000 in 1998.

Creedon said one of the concerns APS has is that voters will confuse the franchise vote with electric competition.

"This is unrelated," she said. "This does not limit competitive choice." Other utilities may also seek franchise agreements with the town.

According to information from APS, the company operates under similar franchises in virtually every incorporated community it serves.

The proposed agreements can be reviewed at Town Hall. They were published in their entirety in the Jan. 19 through Feb. 12 editions of the Payson Roundup.

The cost of the special election, which is mandated by the state, is between $10,000 and $15,000, and will be split between the two companies.

Any registered voter wishing to vote early can do so up to 5 p.m. Friday, March 5 at Payson Town Hall. For information on early voting, contact the town clerk's office at 474-5242.

Polls will be open Tuesday, March 9 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at locations to be announced prior to the election.

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